First I want to say that I do not believe that Cessationism or Continuationism are “essential doctrines”. Meaning I do not think that your salvation relys on what you believe in regard to them. However, like any theology what you believe will have an affect on your life, and closer you are to the truth the better your life will be. So, like in everything we must desire to adhere to the truth, to discover it, and follow it. When it comes to Cessationism I am no expert, but I do wish to bring here what I have learned. I am in no way so stuck on it that I cannot be convinced of another view.
I have agreed with Eric Kemp who authors the Blog Apologia at intelligentscience.org to participate in a informal debate on the topic of Cessationism vs Continuationism. I will be arguing for Cessationism and he Continuationism. I will write the first post and he will respond. We welcome your input and questions at any point along the way. This is our way of challenging ourselves while also benefiting you with both sides of the debate.
For your reference I will be using information found in these Sources:
Ligonier: 1. Miracles and 2. God Speaking
Modern Reformation: 3. Spiritual Gifts
Realgospel.org: 4. Cessationism
I will reference material with the preceding number for the source i.e (3).
I do believe, like many, that Cessationism gets a bad rap and that there are many false views, or arguments against it. First I will give a quick summery of Cessationism, then give some bad arguments against it, and lastly give some good arguments for it. I do not plan on going too in depth, but to be concise and if needed go more in depth in my responses.
As a preface I would like to point out that even if all of scripture can be shown to agree with Cessationism to a reasonable degree, that many people will still not believe it, because to be Cessationist means that you got there because you believe other things about the Bible, revelation, early church, apostles, spiritual gifts, Holy Spirit ect, than Continuationists, and if you are Continuationist, in order to become Cessationist you must change your beliefs on all these things and more, so it is no small task. It of course works the other way too, and Cessationists must change many of their beliefs to become Continuationists. This is because each side interprets the Bible differently in many of these non essentials, so you must change how you interpret and view the entire scriptures. Also this is why so many other doctrines are hard for people to change to, because it requires more than just changing your view on one doctrine. So, please just be aware that these discussions may challenge you and frustrate you, but will not necessarily be enough to convince you, because your views are supported by more than one doctrine. I became a Cessationist because of being convinced of other doctrines, of which Cessationism fits in with, and because it fits into how I understand the Bible and its proper interpretation.
Like in the other articles I linked, I too believe that many people do not understand the Cessationist view or have wrong ideas. Its not like we don’t believe in Miracles (1), we believe God is working Supernaturally, just that He no longer uses some of the Spiritual gifts He gave to the early church, because their use is no longer needed. Not all the gifts are gone, just some, just the ones that God gave to build the foundation of His early church and Scripture, and now since they are both done, built, there is no more need for these gifts (3)(4).
The basic belief is that Scripture is complete now, God gave the spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongues, and healings to validate the Apostles teaching while He built the early Church and Scripture. Since they are now built, there is no need for them now. Now God wants us to get direction from His revealed revelation (the Bible) not secret sayings or verbal communication from Him (2). He no longer needs prophecy, healings, or tongues to prove His word is true, we now have Scripture and the Apostles who were shown to be true through their miracles and gifts. Now God can if He wants, give these gifts again, we are not saying that, but that God doesn’t normally or regularly give them like He did in the early Church.
This is one of the main arguments for Cessationism, namely that our understanding of the Gifts and their intended use, differs from Continuationists. Cessationists now rely on scripture alone to hear from God, to prove His Gospel, and to be the catalyst that saves His people. We believe that 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 should be interpreted as signifying that the gifts will cease once the church is built (4). We also believe that Ephesians 4:11-13 seems to say that the Apostles, and Prophets will only be given until the fullness of the church has come, then they will cease (3). We argue that since you do not see Apostles now days, that you wont see Prophets, although you will see teachers, and evangelists. There are a few reasons for this. Apostles have ceased with the 12, Rev 21:14 seems to show that there will only be 12. Also Ephesians 4:11 says that the church will be build on Apostles and Prophets, and thus it can be inferred that when the church is built, these offices will cease. Timothy who is not an apostle is called a pastor / teacher by Paul and is encouraged to continue on even when Paul is gone. I think the N.T is quite evident that Pastors and Teacher are to continue on, but we do not have much evidence that Apostles or Prophets should continue on, and in light of other passages I think it is best to conclude that Apostles and Prophet offices have ceased.
So we believe that God had a time for the Apostles and Prophets, and the gifts of tongues, healings, and prophecy, namely to build His Church and Scripture, but now that they are both built, we have no need for any of them. We are to now rely upon Scripture alone for our revelation from God, we are to pursue love, faith, and joy and not prophecy, tongues, or healing. We are not to rely on experiences, but the evidence found in Scripture as our bases for truth and revelation. God still does work miraculously especially in His work to save people, and might at times even work miracles as responses to prayer, or just to do the work He wishes to do. However, we do not believe that He has gifted specific people with these gifts to use them all the time. Nor do we believe one miracle to evidence that the gifts are back, but that God is working still in this earth. We have a hard time believing the gifts are still here in the same power they were with the Apostles because we don’t see people being raised from the dead (like Peter did) or lame people being healed (like Peter did), or the blind given sight. We hear about such things, but we see no quantifiable evidence that they are real, or that they are consistent, meaning not a once in a while supernatural occurrence. If these gifts were still working today, considering the number of true Christians now days, one would think he would see tons of miracles happening everywhere, all the time, since we do not, it’s safe to say the gifts have ceased.
Bad Arguments against Cessationism:
1. “I have see people prophecy, heal, or speak in Tongues”.
First experiences should never trump scripture, and you should never interpret scripture from your experiences. Why? Well first our hearts are deceptively wicked, and who can really trust our feelings (4). Second we are called to test the spirits 1 John 4:1, and if we need to test them with Scripture, why is there a need to quote something other than scripture (4)? We are meant to use scripture, to test what other people are speaking, what “spirit” are they speaking / teaching in, does it align with scripture? Experiences can support scripture, but they should never contradict, and if they do, either your interpretation or your experience is wrong.
Second other religions speak in “tongues” or “prophecy” or do “healings”, so it seems they can be contrived, and not the real thing. Also people can be insane and hear voices or contrive such things, how are you sure you are sane or that person is?
Third I have found no proof for any true “healing” miracle to be done, at least the kind like done by apostles. This is more for other people to prove, but in all my study I have not seen a person who was blind, not bad sight, but blind, proven by doctors and others, who was given 20/20 vision instantly and proven by others / doctors. Or a person who had a shrived hand or leg, who was restored instantly in front of witnesses proven by doctors. Or a person raised from the dead. Not that miracles do not happen medically, or that things do not happen to people that cannot be explained, but as far as I can tell this kind of thing happens to non Christians and Christians alike. What I am saying is I have not seen or heard proven that any so called Miracle healer being able to actually perform true healing miracles like my examples before, and more often than not these healers have been proven to be charlatans. If this gift is not performed in power, given to specific people who have done it multiple times in big ways, then I do not think there is evidence for it. If it is sparse, given to random people for a specific time, well that doesn’t prove that the gift of healing has continued, but that God works Supernaturally in this world and answers prayers. A good article on this is Faith Healing and the Sovereignty of God.
2. “No where in the Bible is it specifically said that only Apostles and Prophets will cease along with Tongues and Healings”.
No where in the Bible is the word Trinity also, but we infer from careful study of Scripture that the concept is taught clearly. So it is with Cessationism, we believe that although it is not specifically taught, it is taught by inference.
3. “You guys don’t see miracles because you do not have enough faith.”
Where in the N.T does it say that the gifts are only given to people with enough faith? Where does it define enough faith? How do you know how much faith I have? You are assuming to know something you don’t, you are begging the question. You are asserting what you are trying to claim. You are saying “because gifts are for today, and because you don’t see or perform them, you must not have enough faith, because gifts are for today”. That doesn’t prove anything, it is just an assertion. Just like I could say that you do not have enough faith to see Santa Clause, thus you do not see him. It proves nothing, stop oppressing people with this statement. So many people who “could not” be healed by faith healers were told, “well you just don’t have enough faith”, not “it’s not God’s will for you to be healed” or “I’m a big fat liar”, but “God cannot work unless you let Him” (Faith Healing and the Sovereignty of God). Besides not proving anything, it is actually not Biblical. God doesn’t need your permission, or faith to work. Sometimes He seemingly doesn’t work because a person doesn’t have faith, but other times He does. Take Paul, Paul didn’t have faith in Jesus, didn’t want anything to do with Jesus, yet that didn’t stop Jesus from intervening and giving Paul faith, and changing him. Yes, God doesn’t need you, you are not God’s keeper or boss. This is the biggest problem with this response, namely it brings God down, and makes Him our servant, and brings man up, and makes him God’s boss.
Think about this too. The early church didn’t believe in Tongues, so they didn’t have “faith” in them, but then bam! Flames of fire and the Holy Spirit descending on them in the upper room, and then they spoke in Tongues. So faith doesn’t need to exist first, meaning faith in that Gift, only Faith in God. Thus, if only Faith in God is enough, there are plenty of people around with enough Faith in God, yet God doesn’t give any “gifts” to them in the way you want. Thus your only two options are: you are wrong, or you are pessimistic about how many people are truly saved, when the Bible seems to say a great number of people will be saved, uncountable number. Since you think there are so few people with true faith now days.
Things Continuationists must respond to:
1. If you are going to claim that Prophecy, Tongues, and Healings exist now, then you also are going to have to claim that Apostles and Prophets exist now. But in order to be an Apostle you must have seen the risen Lord in person. Commonly called the 5 pillars of the church, Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Pastors, and Evangelists.
2. Prophecy is adding to scripture. The nature of O.T Prophecy is communication directly from God, thus it is added to Scripture. The Canon is closed, God is not adding to the Bible any more, so there is no need for this type of Prophecy. And this type of Prophecy would only be adding to Scripture, and if true, on the same ground as Scripture. It was appropriate for the Apostle’s time because Scripture was not finished yet, but now that its finished, there is no need for it. All we need is Scripture as our authority, and it would be undermined if people were running around Prophesying.
3. Is the Canon closed or not? Is God still adding to scripture or not? If no, then why would he need the gifts of Tongues, Prophecy, and Healing now? If yes, then why haven’t we added any more books to the Bible? Are you saying that the Bible isn’t sufficient now? It must not be if you think that the canon is still open.
4. I think the biggest point is that the Bible seems to teach that God would build His church on the Apostles teachings, and that once He has built the foundation of His church on them, He would no longer call people as Apostles nor gift them like He used to. You must argue against this language, and then defend why God would need to add to His Scripture more, because it seems that Apostles and the gifts were meant for that main purpose, namely the creation of the N.T.
In conclusion your beliefs will ultimately be determined on what you believe on certain issues (I am only going to do either or, although there might be many more beliefs, I am going to take the mains ones:
Either you believe that God has given us Scripture alone as His means to teach us, and spread His Gospel, or you believe that God uses the Bible with Prophecy, Tongues, and Healings. But then why not Church leadership too like the Catholic Church? Or why discount Mormons and other false religions, because they speak in Tongues and Prophecy?
Either you believe the Bible is complete or it isn’t. But if it isn’t how do you know what things should be added, and why haven’t we added anything more?
You either believe God gave certain gifts in power for the building of His church, or you believe He gave those gifts for all church ages, even though there is little use, or evidence that they are here, and have to argue that they are limited because of the lack of faith. But again where is it in the Bible? There are plenty of people with faith, why aren’t they all acting accordingly?
You have to believe that either man is dependent on God for gifts like even Faith Eph. 2:8, or God is dependent on men’s Faith to act. Either God gives us the faith, and then we exercise it and He works, or else He waits for us to have faith (apart from Him) and then He works. One seems pretty Biblical one doesn’t.
In the end, we all can be brothers and sisters in Christ and still disagree on these things. But like I said before I do believe that they will have huge ramifications on your own life, joy, and spiritual growth. Let us be Biblical, and gracious to each other, and seek the truth. Let us lay aside our pride, and where we are wrong admit, and where we are right humbly assert. Let us not be so reliant on experiences for our evidence that we miss what God is actually saying in His holy Word. This article is by not means comprehensive, but is intended to spark conversation and debate. I will respond to any criticisms or questions to the best of my ability.
The Ball is in your court Eric. Have fun!